13.1 Miles of Amazing

29 Apr

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This is gonna be a long one but there’s a lot to report on post-race. My experiment this morning was a total freakin’ success. I ran the inaugural Key Biscayne Half Marathon in 1:54:51! That is not just a PR, it is a whopper of a PR considering that I ran my last half, the ING on January 29th (exactly three months ago), in…wait for it…

2:04:15.

That is a difference of 9min:24secs.

I shaved 9:24 off my half marathon time in THREE MONTHS. I was aiming for a sub-2 today. Actually, in all honesty, I was really just aiming for was a PR. And that would have been anything better than 2:03:13–the time of my first half back in October of last year.

So, I went in with a pretty simple plan–already a step in the right direction since I ran the last two with absolutely no plan. Just the goal of running sub-2. Without actually knowing what that meant. I hadn’t trained for sub-2 and so, inevitably, I finished those races, not only disappointed, but also feeling pretty sick. I refused to let that happen again.

My simple plan this time ran sorta contrary to accepted wisdom, which tells runners to find a pace they can keep for the majority of the 13.1 and run it. There were pacers out today but at the start, I saw a 2:00hr flag and a 2hr:10min flag group and since I fall somewhere in between this posed a problem. I knew that if I started with the 2hr group, I’d go out too fast and suffer in the later miles. But the 2:10 was gonna be way too slow. Neither of these options worked with my plan so I decided to go it alone and see what happened.

My plan, which I concocted about five days ago, went like this: I will run the first 10K or so at 10min/mile pace. At the midpoint, I will forget about the first half of the race and I will run the final 10K at an 8min/mile pace. This felt ambitious and perhaps a little crazy. But a 10min/mile is slow for me and my normal 10K pace is 8:30. I thought that this plan would allow me to save my legs and then push it in the home stretch.

Conditions were against us. I woke up at 4AM to pouring rain. The rain died down a bit at the start but was pretty consistently obnoxious for the whole race. It did bring the temp down to comfortable low 70s but the sun never broke through and the sky was gray and the roads were flooded in spots. My clothes and sneaks were completely soaked through by mile 3 and yet, somehow, this all added up to a kind of magic for me today. Here are my splits with details:

Mile 1: 9:24.05-This was already faster than planned but my HR was so low and the pace felt so good that I went with it. But I made a deal with myself that I would not dip below a 9 min/mile until after the first 5K.

Mile 2: 9:23.86–I saw the negative split here and opted to slow my pace a bit. My HR was still low and I was still feeling very much in control but wanted to play it safe.

Mile 3: 9:24.78–See above. I credit my conservatism here with my success later on. The bridge was looming not far off and I really didn’t want to lose a whole lot of time on the first ascent.

Mile 4: 9:18.32–Part of this mile was going up the bridge. The wind was with us so that made things better but my HR started creeping up into Zone 4 and I didn’t want it to go any higher.

Mile 5:  8:43.28–Part of this was the bridge descent. I used it and the wind to my advantage and got a little time back. I also grabbed a gel at the turnaround aid station. It happened to be a Tropical Hammer Gel. They have 25mg of caffeine in them. For a moment, I thought about NOT taking it. And then I thought better, realizing that this would be the exact moment when caffeine could be useful. I took half the gel, deciding to save the other half for the last 5K. I had two other, non-caffeinated Hammers in my shirt also. Took a whole one of those between miles 7 and 8.

Mile 6: 8:57.85–Part of this mile was heading back up over the bridge. The wind was, of course, against us at this point and the rain was really blowing in by now. I was psyched to be wearing my new Tifosi Slips with the red lenses. Those coupled with my USAT dry fit cap kept me pretty well protected against the water. I lost a little time here but made it up on the descent. When I was back on the flats, I started to feel my calves. Not in a bad way, just in a way that made me aware of them. Like they might potentially start to cramp up. Unfortunately, the aid stations didn’t have any electrolytes, just water, for the first half of the race. Or I didn’t see any, at any rate. I kept calling out for them but none of the volunteers had any. I’d been sipping water as necessary but I was sweating a ton and knew I was gonna have to get some sodium/potassium/etc… really soon or else the calves might cause a problem.

Mile 7: 8:51.16–By now, we’d made a turn off the causeway onto Virginia Key so we got a little respite from the wind. This is where I mentally committed to forgetting about the first half of the race. I even said out loud, “Here is the starting line. You are reborn.” And it worked! I just sorta let the first 10K go and allowed myself to dwell in the fantasy that I had totally fresh legs.

This was a quick down and back jaunt on the Key so I got to see the folks ahead of me as I headed towards the turnaround. That’s when I saw the 2hr pace group again. They were only maybe a minute ahead of me so I decided to turn it on just a little to see about catching up. I’d been waiting for mile 8 to do this and that 2hr flag was the motivation I needed. I checked my Garmin and saw I was into negative splits now, still in low Zone 4. My breathing felt awesome and nothing was hurting–I’d found electrolytes by then and they were fixing everything–so it was time to seize the moment.

Mile 8: 8:43.11–This was a big mile. Back on the main road. The 2hr flag was in sight and so freakin’ close. I could tell that I didn’t have to do anything other than lock in my current pace and I’d just catch up. So I popped into cruise control and voila! There they were, there I was. Seriously, this was one of the most thrilling moments of my racing life. It was one of those moments, you know, when you realize that hard work and mental strength and perseverance totally pay off. I got very emotional. The tears came and then my hypothalamus threw open the flood gates and my body was suddenly just bursting with endorphins. That feeling can be a dangerous one because it’s so delightful that it makes you want to run harder, faster, which can cause problems when the endorphins subside and you look around and realize you’ve still got 4+miles left.

I kept telling myself to stick with the group. Just stay with the group until mile 10, Edith, I said, and then you can pass them. DON’T PASS THE GROUP, EDITH! DON’T! I knew by then that if I kept my pace consistent, I was guaranteed a PR. I managed to stick with the group for about two minutes and then I just breezed on by. It just happened. I didn’t push. I couldn’t stop myself.

Mile 9: 8:32.23: Mile 9 was my kryptonite in the last two races. It’s where I lost my steam, started to feel my body breaking down. It’s where my pace went from solid to slow. This is where I gave up on my goal at the ING. So when I got to mile 9 this morning running an 8:32, feeling fucking great, I just had to give myself a pat on the back. The race was already won because I wasn’t feeling like I wanted to die. By now, I’d decided that if I could get to mile 10 feeling this good, I would push for continued negative splits and try to run a nicely competitive final 5K. I passed some folks I know from training and made some quick chit chat about the weather or how they were feeling, etc… and then pressed on.

Mile 10: 8:34.01: Best laid plans. Not to make excuses but this mile was oddly twisty and sort of treacherous. Cracked concrete, roots coming up through the ground, lots of puddles, etc… So that’s where the extra 01min:38secs came from. But I was still very happy with the thought that I had already run the majority of the race and the end was nigh.

Mile 11: 8:17.70: I checked the Garmin and saw this pace. My body was still feeling great and I still had a smile on my face so I had no excuse not to push it to the max; leave it all on the pavement, as they say. I decided I’d try to run sub-8 minutes for the last two miles. I knew I could do it. I did it!

Mile 12: 7:56.05: This was the only point in the race where I got into my lactate threshold and started to feel some stuff. I was breathing a little harder but was still in control. I kept checking in with my form: elbows in, arms swinging nicely, fast cadence, landing mid-foot and falling forward. I lengthened my stride, got my knees up a bit and just let ‘er rip.

Mile 13: 7:35.32: I’d been looking forward to this mile for no other reason than I knew I’d get to use Susan’s mantra. “It’s the last fucking mile,” fit the rhythm of this pace like a glove and kept me moving forward with focus. Around the middle of mile 12, I dropped in with a dude who was about six inches taller than me and very, very fit. He was wearing a “Swim Bike Run” t-shirt so I figured he was probably a good person to try to overtake. I kept up with him until the very end, nearly passing him at one point. He dropped me in the last 400 meters. I sprinted the finish and ran the last .18 mile in 6:54. Right after I crossed the finish and got my medal and yelped with delight about my finishing time, the tall, fit triathlete came right over to me and said, “Way to give it all you got. 25 years I’ve been doing this and you almost caught me.” It was a moment.

I know I just used many words to tell the tale of this experience but really, words still somehow fall short. Because a) if you’re not a runner, you may not be able to comprehend the vast difference between a 2hr:04min finish and 1hr:54minutes finish, b) if you are a runner, you still may not be able to comprehend the feeling of shaving nearly 10 minutes off a race without feeling like shit and c) whether you are or are not a runner, you will never be THIS runner and so I can tell you I felt great but I can’t magically transfer that feeling to you through this blog. I wish I could, but alas, I am not that powerful or that good of a writer.

However–and yes, I know this is a super long post but just stick with me for another couple paragraphs and a bulletted list–I will tell you what I did that worked for me. Some of these things are old standbys and some are new tricks. If you are a runner or you want to be a runner (and everyone should want to be a runner) maybe some of this will help you one day achieve the feeling of happiness, ecstasy and total personal contentment that I felt today.

  1. I ate some extra carbs at lunch yesterday but kept dinner light on the carbs and heavier on clean, easy to digest protein and vegatables. I also ate dinner at 6PM, giving myself plenty of time to digest fully before the race. I did not carbo-load with a giant bowl of pasta.
  2. I ate two pieces of toast with maple syrup and tofu cream cheese for breakfast and drank 10 oz of diluted Gatorade approximately 2 hours before the race. I also took two ibuprofen.
  3. I got all of this “out of my system” half an hour before the race. Except for the ibuprofen. That remained.
  4. I ate half a Clif bar 20 minutes before the race, chewing very slowly and deliberately.
  5. I took half a Hammer Gel with caffeine around 50 minutes in; had a full gel with no caffeine about an hour in; and the second half of my caffeinated gel around mile 10.
  6. I did wear my Newtons; I did NOT wear my iPod. This made a HUGE difference as I was able to keep a more consistent pace when I needed to and I paid way more attention to my breathing. Mainly because I could actually hear other people breathing and that forced me to focus on my own cardio. It was really eye-opening. In the first three miles, there were many folks passing me huffing and puffing like little steam engines. I dropped all of them after the bridge and never saw any of them again.
  7. I went out slowly and locked into certain paces for specific miles. I made deals with myself about when I was allowed to speed up. This made for a run with almost all negative splits. And when I did lose time, it was never by more than 2 seconds.
  8. I wore my Garmin. This was my first foot race with it on and it was amazing. I didn’t check it obsessively, just mid-mile throughout the race to see where my HR and pace were.
  9. I paid close attention to my hydration needs and knew when water would cut it and when I absolutely needed a sports drink. I stopped and walked through the aid stations which gave my legs a momentary break and made me feel like I was starting fresh each time.
  10. I kept my elbows in! Or rather, I focused on keeping my elbows in and my arm swing straight back and forth. This is totally thanks to Frank DiPadova for making me aware that my chicken-wing arms were robbing me of valuable energy I might need to conserve on longer runs. Like this one.
  11. I said really nice things to myself both out loud and in my head for the whole race. I never got down on myself. I congratulated myself after every mile and kept reminding myself about how great I was feeling in comparison to the last race. I kept telling myself to “hold onto that feeling.” I also kept asking myself how badly I wanted this sub-2 finish. The answer was always, “VERY BADLY.”

All of that combined to make a great race with an excellent finish. Here’s the official word:

I was 11th/87 age group, 69th/567 gender, and 243rd/1088 total field. I would also like to mention that the overall female winner, who ran a 1:30:25, was 61 years old. And all of that is fine but the best part is that my body didn’t hate me after the race. In fact, my feet even feel fine which is heartening since I’ve never had great feet.

I’m gonna wrap this up now mostly because the Muscle Milk and two muffins I ate right after the race are starting to wear off and I am hun-gry. But I can’t sign off without first thanking my awesome coaches Andy, Frank and Ale for pushing me to achieve my full speedy potential over the last few months. And also all my Alien Endurance teammates and MultiRace for putting on a great show (as usual) despite the nasty weather. I sincerely hope that everyone out there reading this has felt or will feel this feeling at some point in their lives. It can’t be beat by anything.

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8 Responses to “13.1 Miles of Amazing”

  1. Reggie April 29, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    Congrats! Great post. It was motivational. I don’t even know you and yet I’m extremely happy for you! Nice job.

  2. bgddyjim April 30, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    Congratulations! Great job, and that was a wicked awesome post about the race.

  3. willtriforbeer April 30, 2012 at 10:55 pm #

    Great race report! I haven’t done exactly that and my PR for a half is 2:00 which I will probably never pass but I have felt moments of total elation while racing. I agree it is the best feeling and what keeps us coming back. Congrats on dominating your previous PR and good luck with the rest of your races this year!

    • mymultipersonality April 30, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

      Thanks! I wouldn’t be so sure about never breaking your current PR. I was not expecting to shave that much time off the last race. It was a complete shock that I felt as good as I did. What it proved is that really, anything is possible if you put in the time and go into a race with the proper mind-set. And yes, it made me want to sign up for another one immediately.

  4. mymultipersonality May 1, 2012 at 2:05 am #

    Addendum: somehow I got the overall female winner wrong. Not sure where I saw the 61 year old with the 1:30 but apparently, she was a figment of my post-race imagination. The actual female overall winner was–sigh–19-year old Aleiyah Ross who ran a 1:33:06.

  5. AndrewGills May 1, 2012 at 11:01 pm #

    Congratulations! That’s a fantastic tiime for a half marathon. And to take almost 10 mins of your PB is amazing!

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